Belize is compact, occupying about 9,000 square miles. But don’t let its size throw you off. Swimmers, snorkelers, and scuba divers will discover paradisiacal spots along the barrier reef like Hol Chan Marine Reserve and the Great Blue Hole. Wildlife-seekers will marvel at Belize’s magnificent jaguars, pumas, howler monkeys, parakeets, and keel-billed toucans at the Belize Zoo. And culture hounds will reach new heights by exploring impressive Mayan archeological sites like Corozal, Altun Ha, and Lamanai. With so much to do, it can be difficult to decide where to begin in Belize. But the logical first step is to grab your bathing suit and savor tropical papaya or carambola (star fruit) along the beach.
With its plentiful outdoor activities, this 25-mile-long island off the coast of northern Belize caters to the snorkeling and diving set. The island was originally inhabited by the Mayans to serve as a far-extending trade route, spanning from present-day Mexico to as far south as Honduras. Today, Ambergris Caye welcomes thousands of visitors seeking easy access to the barrier reef that surrounds the island. Snorkelers and intrepid divers alike will want to explore Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Most of the diving and snorkeling shops and instructors are found in San Pedro, including the Belize Pro Dive Center, Tuff E Nuff Tours, and Scuba School Belize, which all offer a variety of daily excursions. Prices vary depending on the type and length of tours, plus any certification fees for diving.
When you’re not underwater, explore San Pedro, Ambergris’ main town. Here you’ll find beachside restaurants, lounges, shops, and luxury hotels. You’ll notice the difference between this tourist hub and the more urban Belize City as soon as you step onto its cobblestone streets, which are filled with golf carts and bicycles, rather than cars.
It’s easy to get around Ambergris Caye by golf cart. There are multiple rental companies in San Pedro and rates range from $65 USD per day to about $200 USD for a week.
You can reach Ambergris Caye by boat or plane from Belize City. Alternatively, stay at one of the beach resorts on the island. For more information, consult our guide to Getting Around Belize.
Great Blue Hole
Plunge into this deep blue hole and you’ll discover imposing ancient stalactites (calcium deposits resembling icicles) and coral fringe. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 — along with six other areas surrounding Belize’s barrier reef — the Great Blue Hole remains one of the world’s most distinguished scuba sites. Created approximately 10,000 years ago after a cave roof crumbled in, this blue channel contains underwater tunnels, caverns, and rock formations.
You’ll likely spot marine life lining the coral wall at the surface of the hole. As you descend about 410 feet below sea level, you’ll discover the stalactites, but it’s unlikely you’ll encounter many underwater creatures (except the occasional shark!). Even if you’re not a diver, recent visitors recommended snorkeling around the hole and the nearby reefs. Make sure to visit in the dry season, with ideal weather conditions most likely in April and May.
The Great Blue Hole is located about 43 miles off the coast of Belize along the Lighthouse Reef Atoll. You can visit the Great Blue Hole with a number of dive services that operate out of Belize City, San Pedro, and Caye Caulker. In addition to operator fees, be prepared to pay an extra $40 to dive and snorkel at the Great Blue Hole.